ONE of the great joys of being a regular guest artist at the annual Music at Paxton Festival, says Perth-born pianist Alasdair Beatson, is the opportunity it gives him to do the kind of music he loves best in a setting he describes as “beautiful, intimate and inspiring”.
This year’s Festival, its daily diet of chamber music filling once again the elegant Regency picture gallery at Paxton House near Berwick-upon-Tweed, runs from 18-27 July, and boasts among its artistic line-up a glorious mixture of young and established talent.
As well as concerts by the seasoned Edinburgh Quartet (with clarinettist Maximiliano Martin in Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet), the Scottish Ensemble, a Baroque collective led by harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, and the entertaining percussionist double act O Duo, newer faces include exciting young Venetian pianist Alessandro Taverna (playing Rachmaninov’s Preludes) and the stylish Chiaroscuro Quartet in Mozart and Haydn.
But it’s Beatson who starts it all off, joined in three recitals throughout this Friday and Saturday by two of his closest collaborators, violinist Katherine Gowers and cellist Adrian Brendel, in music by Schumann, Dvorak, Faure, Rachmaninov, Janacek and Kodaly. “The Festival gave me almost complete freedom in devising these programmes,” he says. “So I went for what I most enjoy: a mix of late Romantic, early 20th-century French and East European repertoire.”
It’s in the genre of chamber music that Beatson feels most at home, either as solo recitalist (he featured in this year’s inaugural Perth Piano Series, and prior to Paxton will give his sixth London Wigmore Hall recital) or in one of the many collaborations that have a prominent place in his national and international concert and recording diary.
Sure, he’s a consummate concerto performer, and will join the Scottish Ensemble in October for a tour that features him as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto, K414. But even that, he says, is a concerto that could just as easily be played with a string quartet.
“The relationships I have established with the Scottish Ensemble, and in England with the Britten Sinfonia, are absolutely an extension of my chamber music activity,” he explains. “It’s nice just looking around at such a small group as you’re playing and knowing them as individuals. I like to think they are feeling as large a responsibility for how the performance is going, feeling they can be spontaneously adding to things. I prefer that kind of musical partnership to one where you dive into a symphony orchestra and have half an hour’s rehearsal playing a big concerto.”
This weekend, the partnership is the most intimate, interactive and flexible of its kind. Beatson will accompany Gowers in violin sonatas by Elgar and Janacek, and Brendel in cello sonatas by Rachmaninov and Fauré.
And while the two string players join forces for Kodaly’s Duo, and all three play together in trios by Ravel and Dvorak, Beatson will take the solo spotlight just the once, in Schumann’s dramatic Carnaval for piano.
Once again, he is openly exercising his indulgence. For among the composers Beatson either avoids (“Chopin has always struck me as superficial”) or cannot live without, Schumann is one of the latter. “He bore his soul through his music, and every bar of it has an honesty and integrity even to the point of ugliness, or uncompromising to the point of extremity,” he argues. “And Carnaval, an early piece, is structured like no other piano piece. There are certain aspects that seem unhinged, but I think it just comes from Schumann’s enormous imagination and lack of interest in conforming.”
This is Beatson’s third year at Paxton. He finds any excuse to come back to Scotland from London, where he graduated from the Royal College of Music in 2002, and where he has been based ever since.
“It only takes a few days at Paxton before I start feeling relaxed and refreshed,” he says.
Music at Paxton runs from 18-27 July at Paxton House, near Berwick-upon-Tweed. Tickets, 0131-473 2000. Full programme details at www.musicatpaxton.co.uk